Town residents react to child’s sudden death

CUMBERLAND, R.I. (WPRI) — A young girl has died from an infection associated with a severe respiratory virus that’s spreading across the nation.

The 10-year-old Cumberland girl died from Staphylococcus aureus sepsis — which, when accompanied by enterovirus D68 — is a rare combination that can cause severe illness in both children and adults, the Department of Health said.

This is the first death associated with enterovirus D68 in Rhode Island. One other confirmed case has been reported in that of an adult in the state.

“All of a sudden for something like a minor cold to turn into a major problem for a family — I feel really bad for that family,” Chris Tashjian, Athletic Director for Cumberland High School said.

As of mid-week, the CDC confirmed 500 people in 42 states and the District of Columbia had contracted enterovirus D68. Four have now died, though the linkage to D68 is unclear.

“We are all heartbroken to hear about the death of one of Rhode Island’s children,” said Michael Fine, M.D., Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, who also stressed how rare cases like this are. “Many of us will have EV-D68.  Most of us will have very mild symptoms and all but very few will recover quickly and completely. The vast majority of children exposed to EV-D68 recover completely.”

In an obituary for the 5th grade girl, her family identified her as a sweet child who loved animals and was an enthusiastic artist.

“You take a perfectly healthy child one day and then the next day — she’s not with you anymore. It’s very sad,” said Darleen Elkas, a Cumberland parent.

The child’s death has sparked a dispute between the Cumberland’s superintendent of schools and the state health department, as well as drawn ire from some district parents who question what was known and when.

Superintendent Philip Thornton claims he was told Monday the 10-year-old did not have enterovirus D68. He then communicated that to parents.

But, health department officials told Eyewitness News it had not even received test results as of last Monday and could not have made such a definitive determination at that time.

Meanwhile, Thornton said the school department is taking the additional precaution of having each school classroom and school building cleaned.

“We already do this several times a week, but have stepped up this practice and are leaving no stone left unturned,” Thornton said.

There is no vaccine for EV-D68, and Dr. Michael Fine, director of the health department, has said hand-washing is the best way to prevent the spread of the disease.

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